Poll: Market Crash Threatens U.S. as Much as Terrorist Attack

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Americans see a stock market crash being as much of an immediate threat to the United States as another terrorist attack.

When asked which poses the greatest immediate threat to the country, about 4 in 10 Americans say a stock market crash and an equal number say another terrorist attack, according to a FOX News/Opinion Dynamics national poll conducted this week. Another 15 percent say a market crash and an attack pose an equal threat to the U.S. Even so, slim majorities see the stock market rising and their own finances improving by next year.

As the Dow Jones Industrial Average sinks to lows not seen in almost four years, just over half of Americans remain optimistic about the future of the stock market. Fifty-four percent of the public think the stock market will be higher a year from now and just 10 percent think it will be lower. About one-quarter see no change for next year. Investors are slightly more optimistic with 63 percent expecting the market to increase next year and 7 percent seeing a decline.

Similar results were found when respondents were asked about the future of their personal finances. Over half of Americans (57 percent) and almost two-thirds of investors (64 percent) are optimistic that they will be better off financially a year from now.

Although the stock market has declined and the news continues to be filled with stories about business scandals, few say they have taken money out of the stock market in the last month (9 percent overall and 11 percent of investors). In fact, about one-in-five says they have put money in the market and one-third of investors have put money in the stock market in the last month.

Slight pessimism is evident in the area of retirement savings accounts as fewer Americans today think their retirement savings are secure than did so at the beginning of the year. In January, two-thirds said their retirement money was secure (30 percent "very" and 37 percent "somewhat"), while today 58 percent say their savings are secure (22 percent "very" and 36 percent "somewhat"). Among those over the age of 70, the drop was even more dramatic. Today 56 percent say they think their savings are secure compared to 70 percent who thought so previously.

President Bush receives mixed marks for his handling of the corporate corruption situation. Just under half (46 percent) approve of how Bush is dealing with the business scandals and 39 percent disapprove of how the president's job performance in this area. Overall, President Bush's job rating is at 69 percent approve and 18 percent disapprove.

Americans are almost evenly split on whether news coverage of the corporate scandals has been responsible (41 percent) or sensationalized (44 percent).

Explaining the Tumble

When asked to name what is most responsible for the recent stock market decline, a plurality says it is due to corporate corruption (37 percent). The next closest items to receive blame are terrorism (11 percent), overvalued stocks (6 percent), President Bush (5 percent), and the regular economic cycles (4 percent). Thirteen percent say the decline was brought on by a combination of factors.

Among both Americans in general and investors specifically, opinion is closely divided when respondents were asked to choose solely between distrust of corporations and overvalued stocks as the reason for the decline. About one-third think the market's tumble is because the stock market was overvalued with about the same number saying it was a sign of distrust. About 20 percent say both distrust and overvaluation caused the decline.

The press and financial planners are the two sources considered most believable for financial information about a large company, out ranking not only auditors but also government overseers. According to Lawrence Shiman, a director at Opinion Dynamics, "The credibility of the news media is remarkable. Typically, polls show that the public considers the news media to be among the least credible sources of information on nearly any topic."

Two-thirds of Americans say the media and financial planners are believable. Government officials (55 percent believable) are considered only slightly more believable on a company's financial status than the accounting firm that audits the company (52 percent say believable) and the CEO of the company is the least believable (44 percent).

But people really seem to trust their broker most of all. When looking at only the "very believable" category, people are three times as likely to believe financial planners than the other sources.

Polling was conducted by telephone July 23-24, 2002 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points.

1. Do you approve or disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as president?

Do you approve or disapprove of the job President Bush is doing on the following issues?

2. Managing the economy

3. Handling terrorism

4. Dealing with corporate corruption

5. In general, do you think that most corporate CEOs are honest and ethical, or not?

6. Do you agree or disagree with those who say Democrats would rather use the economy as an election issue than work to improve the economy?

* Wording: "use the economic downturn"

7. Do you agree or disagree with those who say Republicans are too focused on the war on terrorism and not paying enough attention to the economy?

8. Over the weekend former Vice President Al Gore accused the Bush Administration of lying to Americans about economic issues. Do you believe the Bush Administration is lying to the country about economic issues or not?

9. Do you think labor unions have too much influence, too little influence, or the right amount of influence on Democrats?

ROTATE NEXT TWO QUESTIONS

10. Do you think personal injury trial lawyers have too much influence, too little influence, or the right amount of influence on Democrats?

11. Do you think businesses and corporations have too much influence, too little influence, or the right amount of influence on Republicans?

12. Which of the following do you think poses the greatest immediate threat to the United States — another terrorist attack or a stock market crash?

13. Which do you think is the better long-term investment — stocks or real estate?

14. A year from now, do you think the stock market will be higher, lower or about the same as it is now?
SCALE: 1. Higher 2. Lower 3. The same 4. (Not sure)

15. A year from now, do you think home values will be higher, lower or about the same as they are now?

16. A year from now, do you think your personal financial situation will be better or worse?

17. Do you think the recent decline in the stock market is more likely to be a sign of distrust of corporations or is it a sign that the stock market was overvalued?

18. How secure do you think your retirement savings are?
SCALE: 1. Very secure 2. Somewhat secure 3. Not very secure 4. Not at all secure 5. (Don't have any) 6. (Not sure)

19. Who or what do you think is most responsible for the recent stock market decline? (DO NOT READ)

20. In the last month have you put money in the stock market or taken money out of the market?
SCALE: 1. Put money in 2. Taken money out 3. Neither-stayed the same 4. (Have no money in the stock market) 5. (Not sure)

How believable do you think each of the following people or organizations would be if talking about the financial status or the financial policies of a large company?
SCALE: 1. Very believable 2. Somewhat believable 3. Not very believable 4. Not believable at all 5. (Don’t know)

21. The news media

22. The accounting firm that audits the company

23. The CEO of the company

24. A government official responsible for overseeing the industry

25. Your financial planner or broker

26. Do you think the recent news coverage about the corporate accounting scandals has been responsible or has the coverage been sensationalized?